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Photos a powerful glimpse into Atlantic City's black history

ATLANTIC CITY — The black history section of the Atlantic City Heritage Collections at the resort’s public library is filled with photographs, postcards, ads and artifacts from landmarks such as Club Harlem on Kentucky Avenue.

The thousands of photos have been put to good use by researchers around the world. But the collection needs donations of diaries, letters and family reminiscences that would shed a personal light on the everyday lives of the city’s black residents, from its founding in the 1800s to today, its archivist said.

“It’s our mission to collect Atlantic City history,” said Atlantic City Free Public Library Collections Archivist Jacqueline Silver-Morillo. “We rely on donations from the community.”

The black history section has no diaries or letters, she said. “The regular collections do.”

She would love families to donate either originals or copies of family papers.

“We have people all the time asking about everyday life,” Silver-Morillo said. “We want to give it to them, but if it’s not here, we can’t.”

One of its larger possessions is the mirror from Club Harlem, a nightclub that attracted the nation’s top singers and musicians.

“That’s in storage right now,” said Silver-Morillo.

There are large collections related to Chicken Bone Beach, the segregated beach for black people between Missouri and Mississippi avenues during the Jim Crow era, and the Atlantic City Board of Trade, which listed and described thriving black-owned businesses during segregation.

There are also photos and news articles relating to individuals, such as Negro Leagues baseball star John Henry “Pop” Lloyd and Mayor James Usry, Atlantic City’s first black mayor, who held office from 1984 to 1990.

The labor of black people built much of the resort and staffed it for decades, according to “The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City,” a book by Hammonton resident and Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson. He also wrote “Boardwalk Empire,” which became the basis for the popular HBO television series of the same name.

Johnson did research on both books here, said Silver-Morillo.

Turiya S. A. Raheem also used the collections, she said. She is author of "Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash's and the Northside" and a senior adjunct professor at Atlantic Cape Community College.

The treasure trove of the city’s history is located just off a reading area on the main floor of the library, in the Alfred M. Heston Room. The room is named for a former city official, newspaper editor and publisher, historian and author, founder of the Atlantic City Hospital and trustee of the Atlantic City library. He died in 1937.

People come from all over the United States and world to use it, including the people who made the TV series “Boardwalk Empire, and a French researcher who wrote her dissertation on beauty products entrepreneur Sara Spencer Washington, founder of Apex Beauty Products Co., Apex News and Hair Co., and many associated businesses.

Spencer Washington was a resident of Atlantic City who became a millionaire in the early 20th century, and opened the area’s first integrated golf club at what is now Pomona Golf Course and Country Club in Galloway Township.

The collections now include all the items that used to be housed at the Atlantic City Historical Museum at Garden Pier, which was founded by Vicki Gold Levi in 1985 and run by the library. The city sold Garden Pier in 2017 for $1.5 million to Philadelphia-based developer Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments. Blatstein also owns the Showboat nearby, which he has reopened as a noncasino hotel.

“When they sold the pier, we had to leave,” said Silver-Morillo.

There may soon be another museum at Boardwalk Hall, she said, which was recently renamed to honor the late state Sen. Jim Whelan.

The details are still being worked out, said Silver-Morillo. She hopes a new museum may open there next fall or winter.

Morillo would also appreciate a few volunteers to help her organize materials. Mayor Don Guardian recently donated five boxes of materials to the collections, and they need to be sorted and catalogued, she said.

To volunteer, or make an appointment to see the collections, call Silver-Morillo at 609-345-2269, ext. 3063.

A.C. ready to work; 4,800 attend Stockton career fair

ATLANTIC CITY — Job seeker Annette Speights arrived at the Convention Center before the sun rose Tuesday and long before the line that snaked through the lobby and up three levels formed.

“I need a job like I need to breathe,” said the 54-year-old Atlantic City resident, first in line for Stockton University’s first Atlantic City Gateway Career Fair.

Speights was one of more than 4,800 people who showed up and got in line before the 10 a.m. job fair start, hoping to get an interview or score a job with one of the 90 businesses participating.

The vendors spilled out into the hallway, and Stockton officials were making their way through the line instructing attendees to register before they got to the entrance. Some were doing on-the-spot interviews, while others were advertising available jobs and directing applicants to apply online.

The turnout of applicants was much higher than anyone expected, and Stockton officials decided to temporarily close the doors at 11:30 a.m. to make sure everyone had a chance to make it through the vendors before the 3 p.m. closing deadline.

Brian Jackson, chief operating officer for Stockton’s Atlantic City campus, said the response Tuesday was overwhelming. He said it shows “Atlantic City is ready to work.”

“Ultimately, I hope that people walk away with new opportunities,” Jackson said.

Although it was a turnout no one anticipated, it was one that should have been obvious in a region where five casinos have closed since 2014, with only one reopening as a hotel. As of December 2017, Atlantic County was one of the top metropolitan areas in the county for unemployment at 6.5 percent, according to federal data. The national average was 3.9 percent.

Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz said he came out to see his constituents and support them in their quest for a job.

“I’m hopeful that a lot of people get employment from this activity,” Shabazz said. “It just shows people are eager and ready to go to work.”

He said the turnout was “bittersweet” because while it showed people want to find jobs, it also highlights the need for employment in the region.

“People are not getting up this early and standing in line because they have nothing else to do,” Shabazz said.

Speights said she has been out of work for more than a year after nearly 30 years employed at Bally’s. She was open to all possibilities.

“Whatever they have right now. I don’t mind working my way up,” Speights said.

By the time Speights made it through the job fair Tuesday morning, she had two prospects for employment. She was cautiously optimistic.

Some of the people who came out Tuesday were already employed, but looking for more stable or lucrative opportunities. Henry Caesar, 43, of Atlantic City, is currently a slot technician, but hopes to find a job at Hard Rock. Christine Parker, 45, of Northfield, said she has been working event security, but hopes to get a job at one of the casinos.

“Something better, more hours, long-term,” Parker said.

Francis Rodriguez, 22, of Galloway Township, graduated from Stockton University in the spring and hoped to find a new employer such as AtlantiCare to use her health science degree. Her friend Thomas Matthews, 21, of Atlantic City, said he was hoping to talk to employers such as the Atlantic County Utilities Authority. They were both happy Stockton took the initiative to provide a job fair for residents.

“I think it’s good for the community,” Matthews said. “Because it’s hard to get jobs.”

“And they’re good jobs,” Rodriguez added.

Leah Marshall, a human resources representative of the City of Atlantic City, said the city did not have any open positions, but they were collecting resumes for future openings.

“This shows me that this is what’s going on in Atlantic City,” Marshall said. “We’re still trying to recover from the casinos closing.”

Cathy Burke, owner of the Irish Pub, said the turnout was “phenomenal.”

“We’ve interviewed a lot of people,” she said. “There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm with the public.”

The new Stockton campus is expected to open this fall.

Participants should bring multiple copies of their resumes. Parking at the Convention Center is $15. Hourly parking is also available at the nearby Wave garage and there is metered street parking in the area.

Murphy meets with local stakeholders over state's role in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — A decision on what role the state will take in the city is still being determined, as the new administration continues to talk to local stakeholders, said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the Community Affairs Department.

However, no timetable has been set for Gov. Phil Murphy to determine the state’s future in the city, Ryan said.

“It’s not uncommon for a new administration to take their time in deciding what to do,” said Marc Pfeiffer, professor at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

“This is what is called a transition,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s not like flipping a switch. There are so many things that a new administration has to handle, it takes time.”

After years of financial mismanagement, the city’s municipal operations were taken over by then-Gov. Chris Christie and the state Department of Community Affairs. Former U.S. Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa and his law firm were appointed in November 2016 to oversee as the Local Government Service director’s designee.

Recently, representatives of the Governor’s Office met with the union that represents the rank and file of the city’s fire department. On Jan. 31, Murphy met with city Mayor Frank Gilliam for about 30 minutes to discuss the future of the state’s role in the city.

The future of the state takeover of the city under Murphy’s administration has been uncertain since he was inaugurated Jan. 16. Murphy has previously mentioned ending the state takeover, as well as having a partnership.

While not getting into specifics, John Varallo Jr., president of the union, called the meeting productive. Since 2016, the fire department has faced salary and staff cuts.

In January, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ordered both the state and union to attend two-court mandated mediation sessions to try to resolve issues regarding salary cuts and a possible 10 to 12 more layoffs. The sessions have since been put on hold as the new administration reviews the case.

“The approach that they are using feels different than in the past,” Varallo said. “It’s a more positive approach; they are taking time to consider everything. There is no political agenda.”

Gilliam said following his meeting with Murphy that the governor assured him Atlantic City was a “high priority.”

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, also the head of the Department of Community Affairs, said in her inauguration speech that she wanted to free the city of state intervention.

“What is happening is there is a governor who has been in office for less than a month, there are dozens of agencies that need immediate attention,” Pfeiffer said. “Fortunately Atlantic City is not in a crisis. There is no urgency.”

ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer/  


Gov. Phil Murphy

Bomber faces life in prison for New York, New Jersey attacks

NEW YORK — A New Jersey man who set off small bombs in two states, including a pressure cooker device that blasted shrapnel across a New York City block and a pipe bomb at a race in Seaside Heights, was sentenced Tuesday to multiple life terms in prison by a judge who repeatedly called it a miracle nobody was killed.

Ahmad Khan Rahimi, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan, was criticized by a prosecutor for failing to show remorse and was scolded by a victim for not apologizing to the 30 people he injured.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman in Manhattan said it was hard to reconcile the “reasonable enough” man he saw in court with the terrorist who tried to kill as many people as he could when he left his home early the morning of Sept. 17, 2016, with two pressure-cooker explosives and a bag full of smaller bombs.

“You sound like most people and yet your actions are totally at odds with your voice,” Berman said.

“We saw videos,” he said, referencing multiple videos at his fall trial that showed Rahimi dragging bombs in two suitcases and a backpack through Manhattan streets, setting one down a half hour before it exploded in the upscale Chelsea neighborhood and another a few blocks away that was discovered and disabled before it could explode.

“It’s really hard to square the way you appear in court to that other behavior,” Berman said.

Regardless, the judge said, Rahimi deserved multiple life prison terms.

One life term was mandatory but the judge exercised his discretion by imposing life sentences for counts that Rahimi’s defense lawyer said deserved only a 15-year sentence. He also ordered $562,803 in restitution.

Berman called Rahimi, 30, a “clear and present danger” and said it was too big a risk not to impose a life sentence, especially after Rahimi offered “not an ounce of justification” for his crimes.

The Chelsea explosion happened just hours after a small pipe bomb exploded along a Marine Corps road race in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, frightening participants but injuring no one.

The bombings triggered a two-day manhunt that ended in a shootout with police in Linden, New Jersey. Rahimi was shot several times but survived. Police officers also were injured.

Given a chance to speak, Rahimi, shackled at the ankles, portrayed himself as a victim, saying he came to America as a 7-year-old boy with no hatred for anyone and was raised by a father in a household where there was no mention of what his father experienced during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

He described how his father went to law enforcement on multiple occasions to report suspicious behavior he had seen in his son, but ultimately felt let down.

“I don’t harbor hate for anyone,” Rahimi said before describing how he believed law enforcement targeted him once he became a practicing Muslim.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Crowley immediately followed Rahimi, saying he had just “blamed everyone else” after causing so much destruction through crimes “fueled by hate.”

“He has shown no remorse,” Crowley said. “He’s proud of what he has done.”

She described Rahimi’s efforts to radicalize fellow prisoners at the federal jail in New York where he has been imprisoned since his arrest.

Rahimi, prosecutors said, gave inmates copies of terrorist propaganda and jihadist materials, including speeches and lectures by al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric who inspired attacks on America and was killed in a U.S. airstrike in September 2011.

Rahimi also allowed some inmates to view materials on his laptop or provided electronic copies as he spread “The Book of Jihad,” bomb-making instructions and various issues of a propaganda magazine.

Defense attorney Xavier Donaldson called it ironic that his client had once aspired to be a police officer and worked as a security guard after studying criminal justice at a community college.

He urged a sentence not based on what people think terrorists might inspire or the fear they may cause.

After the sentence was announced, Berman invited several victims watching the proceedings to speak.

Pauline Nelson, 48, of Brooklyn, stepped to the podium. She was hospitalized when the car she was driving was jolted by the explosion. She’s still being treated for muscle spasms in her back.

“You never apologized to anyone in the courtroom,” she said, staring at the bearded Rahimi, who sat at the defense table, shackles on his ankles. “You have no remorse for what you did.”

Mel Evans / Associated Press  


FILE — In this Dec. 20, 2016, file photo, Ahmad Khan Rahimi, center, is led into court in Elizabeth, N.J. Rahimi, who set off small bombs on a New York City street and at a charity race in New Jersey, is set to be sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, by a federal judge in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)